Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Great Great Grandfather Saw President Lincoln Assassinated

I have wanted to write this down forever and because it will be Veteran's Day tomorrow, I felt this journal writing entry should be to honor my Union Soldier, Frank LeRoy Perry, who joined the Infantry when he was 13 years old. He was my great, great grandfather and was assigned to The 7 Minnesota Infantry, 7th Regiment, Company K. His birthday was 9 October 1848 and the assassination of President Lincoln was 14 April 1865. This event described by my grandmother, wasn't the voice of my grandmother, it was of my very own grandfather's story and with that, being the way it was presented to me, it became thoroughly embedded in my mind, memorized. My great grandma, Jessie Mable (Perry) Freeman also known to me, as Jessie Mable Frandsen was "prompted" to tell me of his experience.

My Great Grandmother Jessie (Perry) Frandsen and me
Our whole family loved to visit my great grandparents in the San Fernando Valley in a place called North Hollywood. She didn't live far from our town of Santa Paula, except it was warmer there. She and Grandpa Frandsen lived in a group of darling homes at the edge of a grove of Orange trees, farmland, and her the road to get to her house, really it was gravel. Oh, how it has changed. My Grandma Jessie had the neatest stuff and saved very best things that no one else had. I played with an armadillo purse, old grandpa's dentures, old money, dice, marbles, and a little postcards of ships. My young years of visiting her were very loving. I still remember the smell of her rouge on her cheeks and the how she smelled like spring flowers. She had this crazy Chihuahua dog named, Buster. I saw a lot of teeth in that dog, but he never bit me.

I was very close to her in her later years, after my step great grandfather had passed-away, she moved to our town. My mother worked, so every-time I was sick, I went to Great Grandma's. My other grandmother, her daughter, had to work and so did my mom. My ailments weren't serious, but involved a lot of poison oak. I missed so much school during that time, but I'm so blessed because our forced togetherness became a bonding time for the two of us. I grew out of the exploring and romping in the poison oak, but never, did I stop going to see her a lot. She lived just a little over a mile from our house.

Jessie was, because she was at the age of "those years" when all the early remembrances come back so fresh that the event or memory seem to her... to have happened recently. My grandmother thought it was so important to for me to write absolutely everything she knew about her family. Grandma Jessie said to me that all I had to do... was write and I did. Her paper was old, like we used when I was maybe five or so, and was about the size in the picture above. The tablet paper was beige and the blue lines ran across the paper to keep handwriting neat and legible. The papers rolled to the back like a legal pad and the pencils she handed me were sharpened with a knife.  I wrote about all of her brothers and sisters and there were ten. Grandma Jessie was the last one in her family and she told me to keep all the information because someday it would all be important. How did she know, how important? : )

I knew that her father, Frank LeRoy Perry, had my same birthday month and day and that her little brother, Edward Thomas, did also. It's special to me because I too have a son that shares my birthday. My son was the grandest birthday present. Also, my father was honored with Frank Perry's middle name and my father became, LeRoy Gene Wellman. He was called Gene Wellman. I still see mail with his first name and I always think of where the name LeRoy had come. My dad's been gone for over twenty years.

My Grandma Frandsen told me that The Ford's Theater was so packed with people the night President Lincoln was shot. There were many people outside the theater and my Grandfather Perry came early to the theater. My grandmother said he was young like me. I couldn't understand and questioned the story because I knew only officers of the Union Army were allowed to attend a play or an important event with the President of the United States. His age didn't match an officer's age. She told me she didn't know why he was there, but he was. He wasn't in the balcony area and he didn't watch the play or remember it. What he remembered was seeing a scuffle in the President's balcony room or boxed seating, a shot and lots and lots of blood.

 He saw too much blood and the President's face seemed gone, however it was covered with blood. He told his family it looked like President Lincoln had no face because it was covered dark red and had even ran onto his clothing. He hardly remembered a person falling out of the a blur.

But, didn't look because his eyes couldn't leave the President and the immediate flurry of persons trying to help the President.

My grandmother continued with the account by adding that one of my grandfather's acquaintances ran to the kitchen and took a white "tea-towel" and covered the President face and became was one of the men that helped carry President Lincoln to the place across the street, called Peterson's Boarding House. I asked her about her father's friend that got the "tea towel" and I know I asked that a lot because I remember she always corrected me by saying that he wasn't a friend, but an acquaintance. My grandmother was retold about about this horrible evening, time and time again. She said it was as if her father couldn't accept it. His story never wavered, it was always the same.

I told my children the story a few times and not even half as many times as my Grandma Jessie had retold it all to me about President Lincoln and Frank LeRoy Perry. My children knew that story very well. I think I told it to them on Lincoln's birthday even though we celebrate both President Washington and President Lincoln on the same day. I always put my decorations of the two silhouettes together to help them remember how important the two holidays are to Americans. It's interesting, I remember Lincoln's birthday and still have to look-up President Washington's. We do have some great historical connections with our ancestors and President Washington. I have toooooo much to remember!

One year we home-schooled our children. it wasn't well-received at all from our extended family and the school districts, but we needed it. One of our favorite places to visit was the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. It's really close and has lots of traveling displays. The very first time we visited the Library as a family was when the Civil War mementos and history was featured. I had no clue that anything of President Lincoln would be highlighted, but it was. We walked by a picture of Ford's Theater, saw posters, the "Playbill" and then hanging on a display was a gauze towel, a kitchen towel or "tea-towel" and I looked at Steve. The towel was stained with dark brown and I knew it was President Lincoln's blood. I started crying, because it was then I knew... without any doubt, my great, great grandfather was there.

Six years passed and the event came into my life again. Kiely, my youngest, was chosen by her little school to attend with a larger town school to take a trip to Washington, D.C. I had done a lot of genealogy by then and I filled the escort teacher's ear with tales of our family in Early America and then I told her about President Lincoln. I cried. I didn't say another word about our family after that. I was interested in going back with my daughter, my husband, a fireman and emergency expert was invited. I wanted to go too. So I did.

If anyone has been on those 8th grade trips, it's hectic and the day-to-day itinerary is often whizzing by from lack of sleep and just genuine tiredness. I had no idea we were going to the same Ford's Theater where President Lincoln was shot, this was a play about The Declaration of Independence. I was thoroughly excited because another ancestor, Thomas McKean, signed for the state of Delaware. I couldn't wait. My first thought as I entered was that it was a reproduction theater. The teacher that led the tour and all of the planning, came to Steve and I and walked us to some saved seats directly across from the box seats that President Lincoln was assassinated. I'm not sure when I became aware that I was really looking at the "real" place where President Lincoln had been.

I looked down at the empty seats and just imagined all the men in their uniforms with their hats on their knees and wondered where had my grandfather sat. How did he see President Lincoln so well? How did he see the blur of a  person come out of the box seating, and why wasn't he watching the play? I was so upset, but then our own play started about Independence. I saw Thomas McKean with his strong brogue and how he had been placed in the play as comic relief. Perfect, I needed some of that.

Our dear teacher, that was more than an expert in American History,  had my husband and I assigned in that special seating. She took us to The Peterson's Boarding House after the play and while all the kids looked at the crazy bubble-gum tree across the street. The three of us, oblivious to the students... just looked and thought of the history that happened more that a hundred years ago and we felt it.

A day later we arrived in Gettysburg, and it was at that sacred place that I found the answer about Frank LeRoy Perry. My great great grandfather was a musician! We found his regiment and company and no wonder he was young and he didn't watch the play. He was probably able to see very clearly all that transpired that evening with the shock and unbelievable trauma of the beloved President being killed. I'm sure it wasn't a new experience to see bloodshed, but this was so much more and he never got over it.

I want my family to appreciate veterans. I saw my husband's red poppy on his uniform pocket today. It made me think about wars and the rumors of war. Tomorrow is a happy day for my mother-in-law. It's her birthday and we're celebrating with a large party at a big Mexican Restaurant in town. It will be 11-11-11. I don't know that all those "ones" mean anything other than the date, but writing it is fun and it looks even better.

Have I ever said that I love genealogy? It gets better as we go back, it does. We have so many great people in our family and me...I just occasionally write it down. No greatness here, nor can I have claim on any of their greatness. I am humbled to know that so many of them succeeded in their work while on earth. My intention is to document their story or even just their family names, but I do know how hard they worked and I appreciate them for coming ahead of me to make my life better. I know....

Try living with Noah. There is going to be a disaster and we need to prepare now. My husband isn't a Prophet, but a "voice of warning, none-the-less" I'm so grateful to be blessed with such a devoted public servant. My Noah is HERE: Disaster Preparedness

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